I’m wondering what number of bottles of purple bordeaux will grace Christmas dinner tables this weekend? I typically advocate a softer fashion of wine, one based mostly on Pinot Noir maybe, to go together with turkey and its sweetish accompaniments.
The chewier, drier fashion of purple bordeaux, nonetheless, can go nicely with one thing extra savoury resembling roast beef or goose.
However what is occurring to purple bordeaux? Most agree that its high quality has by no means been higher. On the high finish of Bordeaux’s fastidiously carved hierarchy, the so-called classed growths, château homeowners have made a lot cash that they will afford to put money into each final fine-tuning operation, resembling an optical sorter that rejects grapes with the slightest imperfection. Others mix solely the easiest vats into the principle wine — the grand vin — every year.
On the backside finish, the warming local weather signifies that even when the property is situated in considered one of Bordeaux’s much less propitious areas, the grapes nonetheless ripen totally, making lean, imply wines a factor of the previous.
However as in so many societies at present, the hole between high and backside has been widening. This has been so disastrous for these producing wine on the backside finish that they’re calling on the French authorities to pay them to uproot as much as 15,000 hectares of the least worthwhile of Bordeaux’s 110,000ha of vines.
It’s not simply that the value of Bordeaux’s most simple wine has been falling; so have land costs. A hectare of winery with a well-known identify connected, resembling Pauillac, has shot as much as €2.8mn, in line with the (typically conservative) estimates of France’s agricultural land agent Safer. Just a few kilometres away within the a lot much less glamorous appellation of Médoc, the value of a hectare has really fallen to simply €40,000.
Robert Joseph, a British wine commerce commentator, has argued that the blame for this lies with the producers on the backside finish who’ve did not construct manufacturers, in contrast to their counterparts with names as well-known as Lafite, Mouton, Lynch-Bages and Montrose.
In a feisty article within the commerce publication Meininger’s Wine Enterprise Worldwide, he calls out the malcontents on the backside of the ladder: “The individuals they need to be offended with are themselves and the négociants [merchants], for failing to indicate the ability their Champagne counterparts have in creating the model worth their wines deserve,” he writes. “If Bordeaux had a number of large manufacturers doing the job Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot et al have achieved for his or her area, Bordeaux as an entire could be in a much better state financially than it’s at present.”
World wine market Liv-ex compiles an annual listing of essentially the most highly effective manufacturers in positive wine with the commerce publication The Drinks Enterprise. This yr, for the primary time, there aren’t any Bordeaux wines within the high 10, and the quantity within the high 100 has fallen from 53 in 2017 to 25 in 2022. (Burgundy has been the large beneficiary, climbing from 24 to 39 over the identical interval.)
Bud Cuchet co-founded the London positive wine merchants Effective + Uncommon. He couldn’t however discover the falling curiosity his clients had in Bordeaux and the distinction between producers in, say, California, the place direct relationships with customers are so necessary. Bordeaux producers, in the meantime, have principally just one buyer, the Bordeaux Place, a tight-knit community of wholesale retailers who do all of the promoting for them.
So when he left Effective + Uncommon in 2017, he arrange an organization designed to create private hyperlinks between Bordeaux château homeowners and influencers, customers and restaurant patrons. He went to Bordeaux to current the outcomes of his preliminary analysis, which confirmed how poorly Bordeaux is represented on necessary British restaurant wine lists, however such was the indifference of the Bordelais that he gave up.
The Bordeaux classed growths got here to London en masse in November to current their 2020s now that they’re in bottle. Most of them are very nicely made, even when costlier than the cut price 2019 classic supplied en primeur throughout lockdown. Earlier this month in London I ran into Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier, one of many stars of this 2020 tasting. “It’s very important that you simply write concerning the 2020s now that they’re able to ship,” he urged, eyes ablaze.
I have to say my inbox has by no means earlier than been so overwhelmed by Bordeaux producers anxious to have me style their 2020s. I could also be accused of “Bordeaux bashing”, however I get the sense that the 2020 classic, the latest to enter bottle versus being supplied en primeur earlier than that stage, is proving harder than traditional to promote.
Twice lately in London I’ve had the welcome probability to check high purple Bordeaux blind with its counterparts — Cabernets, usually blended with different Bordeaux grapes — from elsewhere and it has been instructive. The primary comparative tasting was organised by the Napa Valley Vintners. It comprised 17 wines, primarily mature Napa Cabs from vintages 2005 to 2010, however the organisers threw in three lauded purple bordeaux — Chx Calon Ségur 2006, Léoville Barton 2008 and Pichon Lalande 2010 — in addition to high wines from Tuscany and Chile. I loved the Bordeaux trio however my favorite wines have been Lengthy Meadow Ranch 2009 Napa and Ornellaia 2006 Bolgheri.
The second Bordeaux mix tasting was an abbreviated London model of an enormous annual blind tasting of high Cabernet blends from around the globe held on the Margaret River vineyard Cape Mentelle.
The wines have been of a persistently excessive normal and this time my favorite wines have been the 2 Napa wines, Spottswoode 2017 and Château Montelena, The Montelena 2017 along with Ch Pichon Lalande 2017. We have been urged by the hosts to not attempt to determine the wines — “simply get pleasure from them on this celebration of Cabernet” — however after all it was tough to withstand the urge. (And, whereas the Napa blind tasting in London befell within the early night and I had already participated in two large tastings that day, the Cape Mentelle occasion was very first thing within the morning when our senses are supposed to be at their keenest.)
I used to be fairly correct in my guesses however took the beautiful Spottswoode from California, famend for its subtlety, for “a glamorous bordeaux?” and thought the Pichon Lalande might have been the Léoville Barton. However an examination of retail costs of all these wines makes Bordeaux classed growths look fairly good worth relative to their most profitable challengers. Bordeaux is probably not modern, nevertheless it ought to be of significant curiosity to cut price hunters.
Sturdy suggestions from the tastings talked about
2020 Bordeaux classed growths
Wines you don’t have to attend as lengthy for
Ch Noaillac 2020 Médoc
£13.99 Cambridge Wine Retailers
Ch Le Boscq 2020 St-Estèphe
£21.88 Lay & Wheeler
Ch Léoville Barton 2017 St-Julien
£65 The Bordeaux Cellar and others
Ch Pichon Lalande 2017 Pauillac
£150 Waitrose Cellar, £151 Waud Wines, £155 The Champagne Firm, £163.75 Haynes Hanson & Clark
Ch Montelena, The Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Calistoga, Napa Valley
£155 VINVM, £195 Wine Direct
Ornellaia 2017 Bolgheri Superiore
£192.40 Amathus Drinks, £195 Quaff, £199 Handford
Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 St Helena, Napa Valley
£222 4 Partitions
Ornellaia 2006 Bolgheri Superiore
Extra stockists from Wine-searcher.com. Tasting notes on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com
Comply with Jancis on Twitter @JancisRobinson
Comply with @FTMag on Twitter to seek out out about our newest tales first